Crimean Resistance to Russian Aggression and Moscow’s Savage Revenge
On 26 February 2014, around 10 thousand Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians foiled Russia’s attempt to seize control of Crimea without open deployment of soldiers. Although unable to prevent Russia’s invasion, they did help ensure that the aggression was recognized as such, which Moscow has not forgiven. Exactly seven years later, Russia is prosecuting Sevilya Omerova for a peaceful single-person picket calling for the release of her husband and father-in-law. Enver Omerov and his son, Riza, are among at least 115 Ukrainian political prisoners, now held in occupied Crimea or Russia, most of whom are Crimean Tatars.
We now know that Russia’s massive military build-up and plans for seizure of power began earlier, on 20 February 2014, however the Kremlin was clearly hoping that an illegal vote in the Crimean parliament on changing Crimea’s status would conceal this first annexation of another European state’s sovereign territory since Adolf Hitler. The Mejlis, or self-governing body, of the Crimean Tatar people learned of the plans by certain pro-Russian politicians, doubtless in collaboration with Russia’s FSB, and organized the huge demonstration in support of Ukrainian unity on 26 February. The illegal vote could not take place, and at 4 a.m. on 27 February 2014, Russian soldiers without insignia began their seizure of power. Moscow still maintained its pretence with a pseudo ‘referendum’, without any option for retaining the status quo, staged and used for the ‘formal’ annexation of Crimea on 18 March 2014. The United Nations General Assembly and international community were never deceived, and sanctions were imposed. In a crucial decision on 14 January this year, the European Court of Human Rights demolished Moscow’s false narrative about Crimeans having ‘voted to join’ Russia. In finding most of Ukraine’s claims against Russia over human rights violations in occupied Crimea admissible, the Court accepted that Russia’s effective control over Ukrainian Crimea had begun on 27 February 2014.
On 26 February 2014 and since, Crimean Tatars have played an invaluable role in upholding Ukraine’s territorial integrity and insisting that the world does not forget that Crimea is Ukrainian. They have also been the hardest hit by the relentless repression that Russia’s occupation brought to Crimea.
Almost all Crimean Tatar Mejlis leaders have been imprisoned, prosecuted or banned from their homeland (and then put ‘on trial’ in absentia, in the case of the world-renowned Mustafa Dzhemilev and Head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov). The Mejlis itself has been banned, with Russia continuing to flout a binding order from the UN’s International Court of Justice to reinstate it issued in April 2017.
The imprisonment of Deputy Mejlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz and five other Crimean Tatars over the demonstration on 26 February 2014, and Russia’s rehash of these legally nonsensical charges in 2020, with its ‘trial’ in absentia of Refat Chubarov, make it clear that the main motive is revenge. The prosecutions are overtly racist, since only Crimean Tatars have been targeted, although any trouble that day came from pro-Russian activists, most of whom seem to have been bussed in from Sevastopol. They are also breathtakingly lawless since Russia is using its repressive legislation on supposed ‘mass riots’ over a largely peaceful demonstration which took place unequivocally on Ukrainian territory, under Ukrainian law.
Almost all victims of the abductions and / or enforced disappearances that Russia brought to occupied Crimea have been Crimean Tatars. While the first victim – 39-year-old peaceful protester, Reshat Ametov – was seized by the armed paramilitaries under Russian control, not Russian soldiers, Russia has never made any real attempt to prosecute those guilty of abducting him and savagely torturing him to death. There are strong grounds for believing that other abductions, including that of Crimean Tatar activist Ervin Ibragimov, were carried out by Russian-controlled enforcement bodies.
Russia’s first political prisoner, Mykola Shyptur, remains imprisoned, along with well over 110 other Ukrainians. The last release of political prisoners, including filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, was back in September 2019, and probably only happened because Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to get Vladimir Tsemakh, a vital witness and possible suspect in the downing by a Russian Buk missile of Malaysian airliner MH17, away from Ukrainian and Dutch prosecutors.
While human rights NGOs and international bodies regularly point to shocking rights violations in occupied Crimea, more is needed to get the kind of publicity that will make the Kremlin understand that it loses more by not releasing the prisoners.
Many acts of solidarity and support need only the Internet, and messages via Twitter or social media can help to highlight the tragic plight of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners serving up to 20-year sentences without any crime.
Please write to at least one of the hostages below and help to ensure that people in other countries know about them. The Russian FSB and other ‘investigators’ spend a lot of time trying to convince political prisoners that Ukraine has abandoned them, that nobody knows what they are going through, nor cares. Even if it’s hard to write in Russian, your very letters will demonstrate that this is not the case.
Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners held in occupied Crimea or Russia (press the name for more information)
Critical hearings or sentences are expected next week against
‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ conveyor belt prosecutions
Fake ‘terrorism’ charges, used increasingly against civic activists and journalists and as part of Russia’s attempts to demonize Crimean Tatars. Not one of the men was or is accused of a recognizable crime, yet several men have been sentenced to 18 or 19 years.
Sevastopol Crimean Tatars
10 May 2018 Enver Seytosmanov
Yalta Six - the first gratuitously violent ‘operation’ on 11 February 2016, and then arrests of two very young men on 18 April 2016.
Emir-Usein Kuku, the first human rights activist, against whom Russia used ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ charges, after other persecution failed to silence him. See:
Bakhchysarai Four - four men arrested on 12 May 2016
Simferopol Five - five men, including two brothers, both of them lawyers and Ukrainian sports champions
Seiran Saliyev sentenced to 16 years on same political changes as those against his great-grandfather in Soviet times
14 February 2019 ‘Krasnogvardeysk group’
27 March 2019 ‘Operation’ against Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists in which 23 men were seized and almost immediately taken to Russia. Two other men – Rayim Aivazov and Eskender Suleymanov were arrested later.
Izet Abdulayev, actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Tofik Abdulgaziev, Crimean Solidarity activist
Vladlen Abdulkadyrov. activist involved in organizing parcels of food, etc. for political prisoners
Medzhit Abdurakhmanov Crimean Solidarity activist
Bilyal Adilov religious figure who also actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Rayim Aivazov Crimean Solidarity activist
Enver Ametov actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Osman Arifmemetov Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and activist
Farkhod Bazarov Crimean Solidarity activist
Akim Bekirov civic activist involved in organizing parcels of food, etc. for political prisoners
Remzi Bekirov Crimean Solidarity civic journalist
Dzhemil Gafarov actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings. Gafarov has a serious kidney disorder and even according to Russian law should not be in detention.
Servet Gaziev, 15.04.1960, actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Riza Izetov human rights activist and Crimean Solidarity civic journalist
Alim Karimov Crimean Solidarity activist
Seiran Murtaza actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings. He has two children.
Yashar Muyedinov Crimean Solidarity activist
Erfan Osmanov actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Seitveli Seitabdiev Crimean Solidarity activist
Rustem Seitkhalilov Crimean Solidarity activist
Rustem Sheikhaliev Crimean Solidarity civic journalist
Eskender Suleymanov, Crimean Solidarity activist.
Ruslan Suleymanov Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and activist
Shaban Umerov Crimean Solidarity activist
Asan Yanikov civic activist involved in organizing food parcels for political prisoners.
10 June 2019 FSB “We’ll get around to shooting you all”
‘Belogorsk group’ - including a father and son
11 March 2020 Another ‘family prosecution’ – civic activists and their relatives
Osman Seytumerov (the sons of renowned Crimean Tatar historian Shurki Seytumerov)
Rustem Seytmemetov (the Seytumerovs’ uncle)
Amet Suleymanov – a Crimean Solidarity activist and journalist (streaming information about arrests and political trials onto the Internet). He had recently restricted such civic activism, but only because of very serious heart problems. This is one of only two cases where death in detention was presumably deemed so likely that Suleymanov was placed under house arrest.
7 July 2020 New FSB low, with arrest of a blind man with limited mobility and many others. At least four of the men Vadim Bektemirov; Alexander Sizikov; Alim Sufianov and Emil Ziyadinov all took part in measures to help political prisoners and ensure circulation of information about such repression
Alexander Sizikov(placed under house arrest due to his severe disability, but Russia is still trying to claim that he “led a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell”)
17 February 2021 New offensive against civic activists with the armed searches evidently only for so-called ‘prohibited literature’
Other religious persecution
‘Ukrainian Saboteur’ cases without any acts of sabotage or proof
Valentin Vyhivsky Imprisoned since September 2014
Punishment for Euromaidan or for opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea
Mykola Shyptur imprisoned since March 2014
Accused of membership in Ukraine of perfectly legal organizations which Russia demonizes, including the Noman Çelebicihan (or Asker) Battalion which, despite its name, is not an armed formation
Other Ukrainian political prisoners